Widows is one of my favorite movies from the last few decade, a criminally underrated mismarketed gem of a flick that should have not only got more commercial love but awards love as well. I won’t say what it’s about, you should watch it. Don’t even Google the plot, just watch. It’s excellent.
Anyway, there’s a great tracking shot that is not only my favorite scene in the movie but one of my favorite scenes of all-time. Colin Farrell’s nepo baby city council candidate character gets in a limo with his campaign advisor after giving a speech on his success in supporting Black businesses in Chicago. The speech happened in a predominantly Black section of the city, one within Farrell’s political district. As he is arguing with his advisor in the car, the camera tracks only the limo as it drives through said district from the place in which he has campaigned to another, presumably his home. In that time, we see the transition from a working class neighborhood to a high end upper class neighborhood with all the glassy condominiums and high end boutiques a gentrifier’s heart can delight in. Both locations separated a few blocks geographically and many years socially by white supremacist politics.
Basically, that’s the premise of this book, only if it was set in Brooklyn, written by Jonathan Lethem, and ping ponging between years telling the story of a crime amidst the broader story of a neighborhood.
Yes, there is a crime at the center of it but the details of said crime are the least interesting part of the neighborhood. This is a hang out book in which you get to know the characters and the neighborhood. Using the postmodern meta-storytelling device I hate but works here, Jonathan Lethem is giving you the grand tour of the neighborhood he get up in, that weird space in downtown Brooklyn that didn’t carry a name for decades until real estate agents threw Boerum Hill on a brochure. You never get settled because once you interact with one, you’re immediately bounced to another. Or another story. It’s a panapol-istic (sic?) method and it works.
And thus the crime, when it takes center stage, is given added heft because you know how everyone got here. But even that is not told in a simple way.
In the hands of a lesser storyteller, this would come off as a smarmy gimmick. But Lethem is an experienced writer, knows his neighborhood to a t and tells the story with brutal honesty and wistful examination. It’s not the streamlined narrative of his classic Motherless Brooklyn but I liked it a lot more for what it is doing and how it does it. It’s not for everyone but it’s definitely for me and it’s one of the best things I’ve read this year.